Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On Making A Difference

It is, in no small terms, immensely inspiring to see genuine happiness where there was only pain. We humans are capable of terrible things, but when we do good, we are capable of greatness. {Photo Credit: Charity: Water}

I can be quite elitist at times. I'm not proud of this, but I've been known to judge several books by their cover. And by "cover",  I mean rigidly defined, vehemently post-colonial social ideals" of what someone should be doing.

Which is ridiculous. As an educated, cultured, well-travelled, reasonably aware citizen of the world, I shouldn't subscribe to these preconceived notions of what makes a person "successful". And I don't, not eventually. But first impressions are reflex reactions to our conditioning, and therein lies my initial shallow understanding of the world in any given social scenario.

Which is why people who truly know me are surprised that I've worked mostly with the international organization/non-profit sector. Obviously I'm a fan of nice things, so why would I willingly subject myself to a line of work that has notoriously low salaries? Is it it a case of the "poor little privileged girl wanting to save the world so she can get glamor shots for instagram and feel smug"?

In a word, no.

If you have at least a double digit IQ and have taken a look around, you've probably noticed that the world has gone to shit. There are romantic concepts of science ("this beautiful planet is our only home") and socio-culture ("there are so many religions and languages to cherish in the world") and art ("the earth without art is just eh") that inspire temporary action, and while these are beautiful to ponder whilst staring out a rainy window and potentially superimpose on a sweeping landscape backdrop to use as a Facebook cover photo, they often remain ambiguous. They are, for most of us, banished to cultural capital and dinner party conversation.

Practically, economically, realistically speaking, thinking in these grand romantic gestures that lead to no action is pointless. We like to think we're working towards social good, but most of us are just punching in a timecard. We buy in to parody campaigns like Kony 2012 and truly believe that wearing a t-shirt or a plastic bracelet is the same as making a difference. Call us slacktivists, but the current socio-political structure encourages this over concrete action. It's so much easier to text a number and donate $5 to relief efforts in Haiti than it is drop our carefully curated lives and physically go help rebuild.

Which is why I'd like to actually do something. There is, of course, that selfish part of me that realizes, as an adult, that sometimes the only way to feel whole is to step outside oneself and donate ones time to others. In a world where shallow pursuits of makeup and reality television and shopping can take over completely, I'd like to look back on my life and know that I worked towards making the world a better place, instead of subscribing to complacence like most of society. There are people in positions of much less privilege than I have had, and I want to give them my hand, not because of some weird civilizing savior complex, but because we humans are all we have. I'd like to make contact with a woman who's been the victim of sexual violence in a conflict zone and just hold her hand and talk to her. Not as a relief worker on a case, but as a fellow female. So we can both take a moment from the harshness of the situation and just relish our humanity and realize our owed basic dignity and respect.

I'm not as young as I once was. I understand the naiveté in statements such as "I want to save the world." But I'd like to leave it a little less shitty than I found it.